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The Intersection of Information & Energy

Three Ways to Improve the Way You Work with Your Suppliers

Posted: 08/04/2015
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As the price of crude oil again approaches five-year lows, it’s more critical than ever for owner-operators to effectively manage the collaboration with their extended teams of suppliers and vendors.

Despite the changing market dynamics, energy companies continue to invest in a growing number of capital projects, especially in emerging regions of the world.

But given changing market dynamics, budgets are tightening, and oil & gas, power, mining and all other energy companies are under constant pressure to effectively manage the heavy flow of documents that regularly move between their many suppliers and vendors. Throughout the design and into the construction phase, supplier collaboration is essential to ensure timely construction and commissioning of energy assets and plants. Given the size of typical projects and large number of documents coming in from each supplier, managing these has been a challenge.

The current inefficient methods for managing the process such as email, FTP, and portals means constant back-and-forth of these contractual documents which increases the risk of misplacing or losing track of the right set of documents with right versions and the risk of exposing network to external parties. So, how can you improve the efficiency and productivity with your suppliers? Consider these suggestions.

1 – Add Structure to Your Extended Collaboration

During a recent discussion with a plant owner operator, it was obvious that they are challenged to efficiently manage document flow from suppliers. Their view of document collaboration with external vendors and suppliers has turned into a frustrating repetition of back-and-forth journey of documents. The documents going from suppliers to the owner operator and then going back with remarks, returning again with the updates and often, another round trip with further changes. This repeats for most of the deliverable packages from their suppliers.

As collaboration is becoming a business priority, look for an easy-to-use tool with a structured environment that would allow you to securely exchange documents, comments and feedback loop with external suppliers. Organize your project documents in a collaborative space, centralizing the exchange of transmittals and contract deliverables. Consider a public cloud solution that requires limited capital investment with a fast, configuration-only implementation that will give you 24/7 access to team members so they can upload, browse and search for documents, and receive notifications.

2 – Automate Your Processes to Ensure Compliance

Regulatory compliance is critical in this industry making it a high priority. The exchange of documents, versions and related collaboration needs to be well documented and, as a result, it often very tightly managed. It has been a challenging aspect to some plant operators due to fragmented document exchange process and different ways for related communication.

Bringing it all together and tying it to a single thread will help optimize the process of document exchange. By automating the time-consuming document validation and import process, you will minimize the time needed to manage and track supplier deliverables. Automation provides extensive audit trails and version histories with a complete record of the document changes, showing a clear record for compliance purposes.

3 – Balance Security and Accessibility

Almost all of the plant operators and engineering firms that I’ve talked to have expressed the concern toward security of data and information while sharing documents with external suppliers. But allowing suppliers access through the firewall poses a significant risk to the corporate network and internal information.

A neutral location that is highly secure with sophisticated encryption is a good alternative to allow document exchange without compromising security of the plant. Using a secured collaborative space, you can seal up any weak holes in your firewall, which is especially important when hackers today are ever more adept at exploiting security weaknesses. For additional security, documents are encrypted during transfer as well as when stored. You can be confident of document integrity, with shared accountability for quality with suppliers and vendors—who themselves have more control over contract deliverables.

By considering each of these suggestions you take a step forward to help your project teams and suppliers keep their projects on track and on time. Meeting all of these requirements with common technology components, such as enterprise content management or document collaboration tools, is a challenge, as they often fail to meet one or more of these requirements.

EMC has developed a solutionto help simplify to help simplify and expedite the distribution, review and approval of transmittals and contract deliverables across your extended team—securely—via the cloud. With its integration to an internal information management system, you can easily extend collaboration to external users without compromising your document management system.

Do you have other suggestions on how to better manage supplier collaboration? Please share them below.